CHS student volunteers at free healthcare clinic

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Cassville High School sophomore Grace Thouvenot would never brag about volunteering at the free Eureka Christian Health Outreach (ECHO) clinic in Eureka Springs, Ark., but she will talk to you at length about serving others.

"You learn a lot through any volunteer work," said Thouvenot. "You learn that the person could be you and that you would want someone to try to help you. It's good to help as much as you can in your community."

Thouvenot began volunteering with ECHO around two years ago when one of her mother's employees, Suzie Bell, said that she and her husband, Dr. Dan Bell, needed an extra volunteer at the free clinic.

"I wanted to see what it was all about, and I wanted to help," said Thouvenot. "Before I started volunteering at the clinic, I didn't know people needed that much help. Now, I really enjoy being there."

Thouvenot serves at the ECHO clinic, which was founded by the Bells, with dozens of other volunteers, including doctors, nurses, pharmacists and dentists, who lend their time and skills to make sure hundreds of uninsured individuals receive quality healthcare.

"I take patients back to see the doctor and wait with them," said Thouvenot. "I also watch children for parents who bring their kids in with them."

Thouvenot said she usually works four to five hours for the clinic twice a month. The first hour of each night is used to set up the clinic, which is established in the Faith Christian Family Church's gymnasium in Eureka Springs, Ark.

"We get there around 4 p.m. and set everything up," said Thouvenot. "Then we start signing patients in and we eat."

In addition to providing general healthcare services and prescribing medications for patients, the ECHO clinic provides a free meal for all individuals who attend the clinic night. Local churches prepare food for the pot-luck-style dinners.

"I love all the people who go there," said Thouvenot. "I like hearing the stories about their lives. It's like having another family."

Thouvenot said that volunteering at the ECHO clinic has taught her a lot and helped shape the person she has become.

"It's a really good learning experience to help anyone in need," said Thouvenot. "Helping someone in need is joyful. It puts a smile on their face and yours too. This has made me the person I am today."

Thouvenot said she plans to continue to volunteer at the ECHO clinic until she leaves for college where she hopes to study fashion design.

"Grace loves going to the clinic, and the patients really love her," said Suzette Bowen, Thouvenot's mother. "She's young and happy, and she loves what she is doing. When she can't be there, the patients always ask about her.

"ECHO is a great organization," said Bowen. "I'm so happy that Grace likes volunteering there. She really looks forward to it each month."

When not volunteering, Thouvenot, who is a member of Cassville High School's Young Republicans Club, works at her mother's store, Sew in Heaven, which is located in Holiday Island, Ark.

Thouvenot is the daughter of Suzette and Terry Bowen, of Golden, and Rex Thouvenot, of St. Louis.

On Jan. 7, the ECHO clinic was featured on ABC World News with Charles Gibson. ABC's story can be found at

The ECHO clinic is supported by donations it receives from area churches and organizations. Medications prescribed at the clinic are donated by a pharmaceutical company. The most recent clinic served 57 patients.

For more information on the ECHO clinic, call 479-253-5547.

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